Alt-Top 10 Films of 2014 – The Best Movies You Probably Didn’t See

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Cole Clay // Film Critic

On Friday of last week, Preston Barta posted his top 10 best films of the year (read here). While many of the movies are ones that I admired, I want to take focus to a list of films that you probably didn’t see, or maybe never heard of.

After seeing roughly around 175 films in 2014, here are 20 films that stuck with me, and it is my hope that after you are done watching BOYHOOD and UNBROKEN you will give some love to these films that reside just out of the mainstream scope.

our rating: ☆☆☆½

1. LISTEN UP PHILIP
Directed by Alex Ross Perry
Starring Jason Schwartzman, Elisabeth Moss, Krysten Ritter, Joséphine de La Baume, Jess Weixler, Kate Lyn Sheil and Jonathan Pryce

It’s a bold and unapologetically selfish story that shows the best (and worst) sides of Jason Schwartzman and Elizabeth Moss. The dialogue, the tone, and the vintage 16mm cinematography make LISTEN UP PHILLIP a true throwback whose sentiments are firmly placed alongside classic New York City comedies of the 1970s.

i_origins_xlg2. I, ORIGINS
Directed by Mike Cahill
Starring Michael Pitt, Astrid Bergès-Frisbey, Brit Marling, Steven Yeun, Archie Panjabi, Venida Evans, Cara Seymour, Rhonda Ayers and William Mapother

A popular topic of film conversation this year are projects that reach further than they can grasp, and I, ORIGINS undoubtedly plays with its lofty premise. It does this so much so that the text challenges the basic principles of the universe as we know it, but I marveled in Mike Cahill’s ability to keep the film on the razor’s edge, and it’s simply beautiful.

under_the_skin3. UNDER THE SKIN
Directed by Jonathan Glazer
Starring Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy McWilliams and Lynsey Taylor Mackay 

Not once this year has a film said so much with saying very little. Scarlett Johansson stars as an alien who turns from predator to observer while trying to make sense of the humans. We see the world from her point-of-view, and even though we have an understanding of the surroundings, the film still manages to be an infinitely eerie exercise in science fiction.

drop_ver34. THE DROP
Directed by Michaël R. Roskam
Starring Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini and Matthias Schoenaerts

Damn, Tom Hardy is just too cool. He can brood, he can emote, and he can cuddle the mess out of an adorable Pit Bull puppy for two hours. This crafty little crime drama set itself apart from the pack with a nest full of surprises that lead up to a rich payoff. Not to mention that his was one of the last on-screen roles for the late James Gandolfini.

cheap_thrills_ver25. CHEAP THRILLS
Directed by E.L. Katz
Starring Pat Healy, Ethan Embry, Sara Paxton, Amanda Fuller and David Koechner

Technically E.L. Katz’s dark (like really dark) comedy was released at SXSW in 2013, but has since gained a small cult following since being distributed on VOD by Drafthouse Films earlier this Spring. It’s a cynical, twisted, debauched and grim take on human nature in the best way possible. Check out our run-in with star Pat Healey.

dear_white_people6. DEAR WHITE PEOPLE
Directed by Justin Simien
Starring Tyler James Williams, Tessa Thompson and Kyle Gallner

This film isn’t nearly as abrasive as the title suggests. To his credit, writer-director Justin Simien is far more interested in satirizing our increasingly integrated culture than outright condemning it. But with an ensemble cast that gives a poignant perspective on American universities, this experience was too crystallizing not to recognize at the year’s end.

babadook17. THE BABADOOK
Directed by Jennifer Kent
Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall, Cathy Adamek, Hayley McElhinney and Tim Purcell

Meet Mister Babadook. He will get inside your head. Don’t look up, he may be hanging out above your bed. But, don’t let that stop you from watching this new entry into the horror canon. Native Aussie Jennifer Kent cloaks an intelligent story of mourning and loss in the guise of a harrowing supernatural horror flick. Leading lady Essie Davis gives a compelling and committed performance that looms larger than the the late night knocks of the “BABA-DOOK-DOOK.”

112471_front8. FRANK
Directed by Lenny Abrahamson
Starring Domhnall Gleeson, Michael Fassbender, Maggie Gyllenhaal, François Civil and Scoot McNairy

This is the one film I haven’t been able to get out of my head all year long. It’s eccentric, (almost to a fault) but rises above the oddity rather than relying on the trappings. As remarkable as Michael Fassbender has been in recent years, this is the first time he has downright morphed into the scenery providing a heartbreaking portrait of the mentally damaged artist, friend and human being (loosely-based on the cult singer Frank Sidebottom). Oh, yeah, and it’s also extremely funny.

sq_turist9. FORCE MAJEURE
Directed by Ruben Östlund
Starring Lisa Loven Kongsli, Clara Wettergren and Vincent Wettergren

Life is all about choices according to this meditative family drama straight out of Sweden. Ruben Östlund challenges the ideas of masculinity with a film that has an inherent sense of underlying dread that’s forcefully broken by a deadpan comedy style that would invite praises from the likes of Ricky Gervais and Steve Carrell. Many audience members will be looking inward at their own lives in hope they would take the road less traveled.

only_lovers_left_alive10. ONLY LOVERS LEFT ALIVE
Directed by Jim Jarmusch
Starring Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, Anton Yelchin, Jeffrey Wright and John Hurt

It’s about hipster vampires and it’s directed by Jim Jarmusch – I was sold from jump street. Stars Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton make this a vampire romance that you won’t mind seeing. Jarmusch’s loose plot structure captures the undead romance of hanging out and the stark realizations they discover while reflecting on past several (hundred) years they have spent in the wasteland that has become Earth. The crowded fanger genre has finally found new life with a playful film that manages to be silly without puncturing its sincere approach.

OUTLIERS:

LOCKE
One man, one car, one phone – one helluva movie!

CALVARY
Not as good, or as important as it wants to be, but got to give it up for the man Brendan Gleeson.

PALO ALTO
James Franco set it up with the script and Gia Coppola knocked it down with the direction in this dream-like film about youth with lots of booze and too much time on their hands.

JOHN WICK
Yeah, obviously Keanu Reeves is back in a big way in this campy action film (that I believe had a kill count of 84 by the eponymous anti-hero).

ROSEWATER
It was gut-wrenching and still had some laughs in this political drama by Jon Stewart.

CHEF
Jon Favreau is back and he’s making Cubanos for everybody from Austin, TX, to Miami, FL. It’s not particularly ambitious, but it’s insanely adorable.

HOUSEBOUND
It turns out there are other quality films to come out of New Zealand that don’t feature Orcs. Director Gerard Johnstone’s Scooby-Doo like mystery nails the slapstick comedy and the finger-peering gore.

NIGHT MOVES
Turns out that not all of the crunchy granola types have the best intentions. Kelly Reichardt’s finely orchestrated drama probes at the audience and introduced me to the term “eco-terrorist.”

JOE
David Gordon Green has made a comeback to his independent roots and he brought the increasingly bizarre Nicolas Cage along the ride for this excellent story about the road to redemption.

DOM HEMINGWAY
Dressing down doesn’t always work for hunky leading men like Jude Law, but his brash turn as an aging safe-cracker stood out come the year’s end.

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.